YWM Engage: Connections and Care in Childhood Obesity

Two Children Sit on a MeadowA leftover from the days of moral panic about obesity is the designation of September as National Childhood Obesity Month. The intentions were good but with prevention as the sole focus, families and youth already living with severe obesity got the message. They did not really count. But at the YWM 2023 Engage convention, OAC showed us a better way. Parents and youth living with obesity found empowerment, connections, and insights about care for obesity in childhood.

At the meeting, Claudia Fox delivered a remarkably clear description of the consensus and the controversy around pediatric obesity care. As Co-Director of the Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine at the University of Minnesota, she is in a unique position to see how severely obesity can disrupt the lives of young persons with obesity and their families.

AAP Guidelines:
Providing Care Sooner

The very essence of the new AAP guideline for pediatric obesity care is don’t wait to provide care, said Fox. Kids do not simply grow out of it. In fact, without care the overwhelming majority will move into adulthood with obesity that progresses and causes ever more harm to health.

Fox explained that an essential part of delivering care is to acknowledge the biological basis of this disease. Without that, parents and youth feel judged and blamed, so they avoid medical care. But knowing that obesity comes from a child’s biology takes the blame out of the equation. It helps parents understand they have options that can help their children. Most of all, it empowers them to care for their family.

Empowering Youth and Families to Overcome Bias

The controversy that erupted with the new pediatric obesity guideline came from two sources. One was a false presumption that treating obesity in a healthcare setting might trigger disordered eating. Fox explained that the opposite is true. In a culture that prizes thinness, DIY weight loss can be problematic. But good behavioral care for obesity serves to improve eating behaviors. The other false presumption is that simply eating right will fix the problem of child obesity. That comes from dismissing the biological basis of obesity.

Faced with such bias, parents and youth at the YWM Engage meeting found powerful connections – empowerment to advocate for better care for families facing the challenges that they have faced.

Moved to tears by the testimonies of these young people, OAC board member Sarah Bramblette told them, “You are the future. You will have lives and options that we have never had a chance to have before.”

Click here for Fox’s presentation.

Two Children Sit on a Meadow, painting by Paula Modersohn-Becker / WikiArt

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September 26, 2023